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Dalhousie students offered emergency hijab kits after women report attacks

Last Updated Nov 28, 2017 at 5:00 pm EST

Masuma Khan, a Muslim student leader poses in Halifax on Saturday, October 28, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

HALIFAX – The Dalhousie Student Union is offering emergency hijab kits after Muslim women on campus reportedly had their head coverings pulled off and spat on, but the university says it doesn’t expect the kits will be used.

Dalhousie Student Union president Amina Abawajy said the emergency hijab kits come in response to mounting harassment and violence against Muslim women on campus.

“We were hearing about safety concerns from Muslim students across campus,” she said Tuesday, noting that the hijab campaign is an attempt to make students feel safer while raising awareness about hate crimes against Muslims.

The hijab kits, created in partnership with the Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group (NSPIRG), includes a piece of fabric, pins, tips for bystanders, a guide for wrapping the hijab and phone numbers for reporting crimes.

A Dalhousie University spokeswoman said the school has agreed to have the hijab kits on hand with campus security should they be needed.

But Janet Bryson says the university doesn’t expect the kits will be used.

“The university has not had a case where someone has had their headdress targeted,” she said in an email. “Our expectation is that they won’t have to be used.”

A Halifax Regional Police spokeswoman said she wasn’t aware of any incidents related to head coverings being pulled off in the city.

Clark MacIntosh with NSPIRG said as with other cases of gender-based violence, women might not feel comfortable reporting such incidents for a number of reasons.

“There is a level of identity and safety that comes with a head covering so when that is taken away, it puts someone in a vulnerable position,” MacIntosh said. “To then have to speak with security or police could be re-traumatizing.”

MacIntosh said the emergency hijab kits will hopefully help people feel more comfortable reporting hate crimes.

About 20 kits have been dispersed throughout the university’s Halifax and Truro campuses, while another dozen or so are expected to be made available this week.

MacIntosh said none of the kits have been used yet but the program — just over a week old — is still being rolled out.

Despite the lack of reported incidents, Dalhousie student executive Masuma Khan said Islamophobia is on the rise at the Halifax university.

“I’ve heard many Muslim women talking about their hijab being yanked, spat on, or even pulled right off,” she said. “Sometimes you don’t even notice it, like you’re in class and someone will spit on you from behind and you don’t realize it until you’re fixing your hijab. It’s the most demeaning behaviour.”

Khan, a Muslim woman who wears a hijab, said she was called a terrorist by another student on campus in September.

She was embroiled in controversy this fall for comments she made on social media related to Canada 150 celebrations. The university dropped disciplinary proceedings against her last month, in part because of the threats against Khan and her identity.

Khan said fears of Islamophobic attacks have been growing since a shooting at a Quebec City mosque last January that left six worshippers dead and scores injured.

The number of victims of police-reported hate crimes in Canada targeting Muslims grew by 30 per cent in 2016 compared to the previous year, according to Statistics Canada.

Dalhousie has about 18,900 students, but could not provide a breakdown on the number of students that identify as Muslim.